Providing an assist

Jackson resident Kelly Bannister is a peer advocate for the Enhanced Women’s Specialty Services program at Family Services and Children’s Aid/Born Free.

Photo by Mary Steinmetz

Recovery coach helps clients turn lives around

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

At 15, Kelly Bannister left her hometown of Detroit for Jackson, free and on her own, and went on to graduate from Jackson Public Schools. A life of hard knocks left her with a dogged determination to succeed and a passion for helping others that has included working at the Jackson County Recovery Court, and to her current position as a peer advocate for the Enhanced Women's Specialty Services program at Family Services and Children's Aid/Born Free.

"This position within this agency has introduced me to many other learning/serving opportunities. It also has brought me back into partnership with Recovery Court, entailing working with their participants who are receiving services through FSCA/Born Free, and either are pregnant or have a child one year old or younger," she says. Working 24 hours/on call, equaling no more than 40 hours a week, Bannister meets with clients at least once weekly with sometimes daily contact; provides transportation to appointments and meetings; introduces them into the recovery community and helps to connect them to sponsors, and other women for support. She is available to assist throughout the pregnancy, during time of delivery, and makes home visits to assist in the home, and with children, if needed. She also advocates and assists them with connecting to other agencies for needed resources.

"I'm able to share openly about my experiences, challenges, learned strengths, and outcomes in my own recovery journey," Bannister says.

"I've come to realize this line of work is my purpose and that's why my life went the way it did, from childhood. I had a choice to blame, be in pity, or make excuses, but I chose to use all the pain and heartache that I've suffered in my life, to hopefully save others from taking some of the same paths.

"I also have a responsibility to God, myself, family, friends, and my community to give back, for all of the time, support, and resources that have been given to me in order to get me to where I am today and all of the programs, churches, and individuals that helped me, and sometimes carried me along the way."

Bannister is enrolled to start studying for her bachelor's of social work degree from Spring Arbor University this fall.

"I was always drawn to social work, but didn't realize what that meant for me until late into adulthood," she says. "Being a person in long-term recovery, which means I've been abstinent since 12-7-2004, and needing to give back to others what has so freely been given to me, drove me to commit to recovery and others, volunteer, serve, and further my education."

Her continued support of the Jackson County Recovery Court program and its participants led her to be hired by Home of New Vision in Jackson, a nonprofit organization helping those affected by the disease of addiction. Bannister worked part-time for two years as a recovery coach for the courts.

While working at HNV, and finishing her associate's degree in business administration from Baker College, she accepted a yearlong service commitment from AmeriCorps that placed her at LifeWays/211 and in various community agencies.

This was followed by a part-time position at LifeWays and Bannister worked there and at HNV/Recovery Court, while one-by-one completing pre-requisite classes at Jackson Community College, paid for through her AmeriCorps Education Award, for the BSW program at Spring Arbor.

When a full-time position with benefits and retirement opened up at LifeWays/211, Bannister landed the job.

"It was a very difficult move to make from HNV/Recovery Court, but my financial situation warranted it and made it possible to pay for my bachelor's program," she says.

Four months into that position, Bannister's husband underwent emergency heart surgery, was declared totally disabled, and unable to work at his job of 16 years.

"We lost three-quarters of our income and became bankrupt," Bannister says. "Thank God, my husband is on the road to recovery and our needs are met."

Since the means to pay for her BSW at Spring Arbor University is not available through her previous plans, Bannister hopes to acquire scholarships and a personal loan to complete her degree and move on for her master's of social work degree. Bannister is in her last class for her pre-requisites at Jackson Community College, and is also working towards her (CADC) Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor certification through FSCA/Born Free.

After leaving Jackson for three years after high school, she has called the city her home since 1989.

"I enjoy the people in this community," she says. "Most people accept you with open arms, if you're sincere in what you say and do. I've found a lot of forgiveness, support, guidance, correction, caring, many chances, and an abundance of concern and love in this community. I would say, for me, 'You reap what you sow.'"

Bannister and her husband of nine years, also in long-term recovery, are very active in the recovery community.

"We both were single parents with three children," she says. "We've raised six wonderful children and now have six beautiful grandchildren."

In her leisure time, Bannister enjoys spending time with family and friends, movies, singing, dancing, reading, traveling, boating, and riding motorcycles.

She also enjoys helping others, including volunteering at the Interfaith Shelter where she has served meals, cut residents' hair, assisted at church services on Sundays, and done "service work" on a consistent basis within the recovery community.

She would also like to reach out to high school students.

"I want to go into the high schools and share my experiences as a child and teen-ager, and the other choices that I could have made, but didn't know about," she says.

Published: Thu, Jun 18, 2015

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